When Authors Don’t Understand Copyright Law, the Law Might Come After THEM!
Quote: It’s also a misconception that cartoons can be republished simply because they are graphics. That is also entirely untrue.
How true! Copyright law becomes MORE messy when graphics are involved not less. With words, fair use allows you to quote enough of them to use for its list of permitted reasons. If you’re arguing that someone is wrong on a particular topic (scholarship), you can quote the points they’re making as part of your disagreement with them. If you are a book reviewer and think a writer has no talent, you can quote examples of what you consider bad writing (criticism). Just don’t abuse that by quoting more than necessary to make your point. And in most cases, it’s courteous to credit your source.
Pictures, graphics, and political cartoons are different. In almost all uses, the entirety of the image is included. That may seem small in comparison to a 10-page article from which you are taking several paragraphs. But copyright law looks at the proportion you’re taking not its literal size. If you reproduce a cartoonist’s political cartoon, you are taking the entirety of his work. It’s difficult to argue that’s fair use. Also, who owns the rights can also be messy with images. While an author and publisher almost always owns the content of a book in its entirety, the creator of the image may have licensed its use specifically in that book and retained the rights for any other use.
If you’d like to know more, Nolo offers some excellent guidebooks on copyright law. Many libraries stock them. Copyright law has been fairly stable in recent years, but in touchy situations, you might want to consult a lawyer who specializes in it. That’s particularly true if you do business in the Second District (New York). The presence of so many well-heeled copyright interests in Manhattan tends send its federal courts careening off the rails every couple of decades. You don’t want to be in one of those train wrecks.
In the case of political cartoons, there are websites that can license their use. Just do a search for “stock photo political cartoon.”
–Michael W. Perry
Michael Perry’s comment is very useful. I’ll only add a slightly different take. When I wanted to include in one of my stories a reference to a political cartoon–I wouldn’t be using the actual image, only describing it and quoting the caption–I contacted an Intellectual Property attorney. He said that because I wasn’t using the image itself, only describing it, I “should” be okay legally. The thing is, a writer can still be sued for copyright infringement if the artist wants to sue. The author referencing that other person’s work may end up winning the case, but there could still be that case, a case which would require time, commitment, and resources to fight. So unless a writer really needs the “real thing,” it’s best to just make up something on your own, like creating your own lyrics to a fictitious song that doesn’t really exist. As writers, we only need to create the illusion that we’re quoting a real song or referencing a real political cartoon. We don’t always need actual material that someone else created. Maybe I’m “chicken,” but in my own stories, I’ve decided to just play it safe and avoid the issue altogether.
– Johnny Townsend
The good news is that the people in the US copyright office can be very helpful. I had forgotten to list the cover photo (which I took) on my application and the man assigned to my application made sure the application reflected the photo’s status, as well as the status of a poem I quoted (I had acknowledged its author). They might not be a substitute for a lawyer for complicated issues but the copyright office professionals are a good place to start.
A question about common household items. Is it acceptable to mention “Coke” or “kleenex” (Pass me a Kleenex so I can wipe up the spilled Coke – for instance)
Reply to patriciaplake:
There’s an excellent article by a lawyer about this topic here: http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/trademarks/
– Angela Hoy – Publisher of WritersWeekly.com
Great article and comments. In my writing (as well as other facets of my life) I go by the theory: when in doubt, don’t.
– Pamela Allegretto
Bridge of Sighs and Dreams
Nazi-occupied Rome sets the stage for Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, where the lives of two women collide in an arena of deception, greed, and sacrifice.
Reply to Pamela Allegretto:
Wow! “When in doubt, don’t,” is what I use for everything I doubt in my life, too! (Especially that second helping of dessert!!) 😉 Seriously, though…I taught it to our kids, too. It really works. 🙂
– Angela Hoy – Publisher of WritersWeekly.com
“Where can I find a medical disclaimer template for the book I’m writing?”
After writing the disclaimer the author would be well served to have an IP lawyer vet it carefully.
– Jedidiah Manowitz
“Can I use my ex’s texts, emails, and photos in my book about his infidelity and betrayal?” NO!!!
In, I guess, about the 1940s a man here in Montecito/Santa Barbara wrote a tell all book, like Peyton Place. His divorcing wife called and said she was going to kill herself. He heard the gun shot and scream so called the police then went to her home. She had fired at the wall and the bullet ricocheted and hit her leg. The event was in Montecito (site of recent debris flow/mud slide), very upscale place. The assistant editor of our daily paper (his father owned it) showed up and the husband begged him not to print the story because his family was socially “up there”. Front page news the next day, his reason for the book. I think it was a best seller because everyone in Montecito wanted to know what everyone else was doing, places were real and the people had made up names. Disclaimer of course, simply fiction! The author had to leave town. No law suits as I’m sure, as you mentioned, would happen today. I really enjoy reading this site, thank you.
– Judy Pearce
LETTER ABOUT: 36-Knot Gusts Abruptly Terminate Our High Seas Adventure!
The reason that I am writing to you is that I wish to express my absolute enjoyment whenever I read of your family’s excursions and adventures (and at times mishaps). I am continually in wonder when I read about how you have simply uprooted yourselves from Maine and relocated the family to Florida, and in a sailboat yet! I find this to be of the utmost of real-life adventure stories, and steadily continuing in day-to-day accounts. That is the reason I am writing to you today, simply to say how much I enjoy your retelling of your adventures. I also love the pictures of the kids and their pluckiness in heading into such daily adventures out in the unknown.
I have always remembered a story that I read in National Geographic years ago about a young boy of around age 12 who lived in a Northwest area of the country and always wanted to sleep outdoors. In one photo, his mother was shown scraping ice off his face in midwinter while he was ensconced in a sleeping bag. What fortitude! I was reminded of this when I saw the happy faces of your youngsters aboard the sailing vessel despite some uncomfortable circumstances – they were enjoying it!
The best to all of you,
Read More Letters and Comments
33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Blind Characters
I admire any writer who wants to tackle a blind character. But so many writers take up this challenge and FAIL. They research blindness by reading other fiction books, by observing their blind colleagues and acquaintances, and by tying on a blindfold and pretending to be blind themselves.
I understand the challenges your characters face, their triumphs, their hopes and their fears, because I've lived them. I work with people who have varying degrees of blindness every day, so I've seen every challenge, every situation you could imagine.
Let me share my knowledge to improve your writing. You can create blind characters that readers will fall in love with.